LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- After a Little Rock family lost their son to a long and difficult battle with addiction, they decided to be upfront and honest about the struggles they faced.
In their son's obituary, they said they hoped to expose the demon and disease of addiction in a hopeful attempt to save other lives. They weren't prepared for the overwhelming response from people all over the state.
On the outside, Suzanne and Rory Tipton’s son, Nicholas Kellar, seemed to have it all. He was a stellar student, had college scholarships, and a great personality. His mom said he was smart, funny, hardworking, and very caring.
“People really loved him,” said Suzanne.
A life cut short by opioid addiction
What people didn’t see were the inner struggles he faced. He had dealt with years of health issues, depression, and a painful addiction to opioids. His family helped him get treatment, counseling, and medications, but it wasn't an easy road.
“He wanted off of it and he wanted out of it,” said Rory.
Nicholas passed away after his long fought battle and years of fighting. It was a shock to their family, considering he had recently been sober for over two years. When it came to writing her son’s obituary, Suzanne didn't want to take the road most often traveled.
“I couldn’t sit there and pretend like a 23-year-old passed away suddenly,” she said. “There was much more behind this and I just couldn’t give out that false narrative."
She and her husband decided they would share their family’s story to show people that the battle her son was fighting was a battle being fought by many others.
“This is happening everywhere, and this is happening at every socioeconomic level,” said Suzanne.
She was shocked at the response after the obituary was published. She said several reached out to say that after reading the obituary they have reached out to family for help with their personal addiction struggles. She said strangers showed up to Nicholas’s visitation because they were so moved by the story and wanted to show their support.
“We have letters from people we don’t know and we have phone calls from people we don’t know,” said Rory. “We've had people come up to us that are struggling with addiction."
The family hopes their honesty will inspire change and help end this epidemic.
"If you just rip the Band-Aid off and shine a light on it, you stand a chance,” said Suzanne.
The family is now hoping to connect legislators, medical professionals, schools, and families to coordinate and fight the opioid epidemic.
There are resources for those who are suffering from opioid addiction, such as the Opiate Addiction Resource or SAMHSA’s National Helpline.
Read Nicholas' obituary below:
January 7, 1994 - April 14, 2017
Nicholas Alexander Kellar, age 23, of Little Rock, died of an accidental overdose on Friday, April 14, 2017, following a long, hard battle with addiction. He was born January 7, 1994 at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He was the son of Rory and Suzanne Tipton. He attended Arkansas Baptist High School until transferring to Maumelle High School for his senior year. He was baptized at Geyer Springs First Baptist. He was only 23 years old and should have had a long life adventure ahead of him. We write this not to dishonor his memory, but to shine a light on this epidemic that is ruining so many young adult lives.
Nicholas was unconditionally loved by his family. He was a sweet young man and once you knew him, you would never forget him. Outwardly he looked like he had it all; intelligence, love, talent, beautiful brown eyes and blonde hair. His smile that people smile with him. He was fun, had well thought out opinions, and could match wits with anyone. His fashion sense was definitely unique, but he enjoyed his wild shoes and endless collection of flat billed hats. Inwardly, however, Nicholas was fighting deep depression and dealt with pain, fatigue and repeated illness brought on by an immunity disorder. We loved him with all our hearts, but it was not enough to protect him from this world.
He had the potential to accomplish anything he wanted, but drugs crept into his life around the age of 15. Around the same time, he was diagnosed with an immune disorder that resulted in repeated illnesses and required frequent antibody infusions. Once the patterns of drug abuse emerged, we tried everything we knew to help him. Nicholas fought hard to beat his addiction, but I am not sure that even he understood the internal demons that were beating him down. He did know that his family and friends would do (and did) anything that might help including hospitalization, rehab, counseling, and finally suboxone treatment.
For two years, it appeared the battle was won and we again had our beautiful, smart, sweet, funny, and loving son that liked twisted movies, music, engaging with others and enjoyed life. He was figuring out what he wanted to do in this life and was working on a business degree at Pulaski Tech. He was looking forward to our next ski trip (he loved snowboarding).
Unfortunately, relapse rates with opioids are extremely high and deadly. That addiction, along with depression, was more than he could overcome. Understand, this addiction is NOT who Nicholas was, but it is a disease that people need to know about and fight. He was our son, grandson, brother, and our life – and he mattered.
Instead of an ambiguous “died suddenly at home” we opted for openness by honestly saying “died of an accidental overdose” in order to publicly expose the demon and disease of addiction that will continue to hit so many families.I struggle with understanding God’s purpose in the death of my beautiful son, but maybe if even one person is positively affected by his story then this unbearable loss will make more sense.
See Nicholas' full obituary here.